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Box full of memories

By Erika Pedroza | Published Saturday, November 10, 2012

Don Brown has plenty of stories.

Stories of growing up on the family farm north of Boyd.

Stories of his time at Texas A&M.

Stories about his beloved wives, daughter, granddaughters and great-grandchildren.

And plenty of stories of his time at war.

“I could talk for 100 years about that,” the 98-year-old said.

DECORATED HERO – Don Brown of Decatur keeps the medals, pins and badges he earned while serving in the U.S. Army during World War II in a shadow box on his wall. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Many of the stories from that millennium volume, however, are encased in a medium-sized shadow box hanging on the wall of his unit at Governor’s Ridge.

In addition to his identifying pins, badges, dog tags and campaign stars, there’s a photo of a 28-year-old Brown in the upper left-hand corner.

“That was taken at Fort Barkeley, after I enlisted,” Brown said. “It was one of those things, something that you had to do.”

Brown graduated from Decatur High School, where he played football, in 1932 before earning a degree in petroleum engineering from Texas A&M. He landed a job at Lone Star Gas Co. in 1939 and lived in Dallas before he was called to the U.S. Army. He enlisted March 9, 1942, at Fort Benning, Ga.

“My old friend Pat Bevel from Clarendon picked me up in Decatur at my mother’s place,” he recalled. “We were wearing civilian clothes. We didn’t have uniforms, so we had to stop on the way to Fort Benning and buy some uniforms in southern Alabama.”

Brown “wasn’t there very long” before continuing training at Camp Barkeley in Abilene and undergoing desert training in Needles, Calif., and Yuma, Ariz.

“There the temperatures in September would get up to 120 degrees,” Brown recalled.

After a quick stint in Fort Dix, N.J., where he married his sweetheart, Ruth Duncan, Brown deployed overseas to France and Normandy.

“I wasn’t overseas very long,” he said. “About a year.”

But it was long enough to garner a slew of accolades including a Purple Heart with an oak leaf cluster, signifying Brown’s two battle wounds – one in his right arm and another in the back of his right leg.

“I spent a lot of time in England, in the hospitals in Winchester,” Brown said. “I went through that hospital twice. Stonehenge is right down the road, but I didn’t know it at the time.”

Although the date of the first injury is clearly inscribed in his mind – June 12, 1944 – Brown said he couldn’t recall how it happened.

“I reached down for my rifle, and there was blood on my arm,” he said. “It must have been the guys in the foxhole.”

Brown sustained his second injury during the Battle of Chambois.

“I put (the bullet) on my bedside table, and they swept it out,” he said. “I never did get home with it.”

The bullet from the first injury was pried from his arm and is nestled in the upper righthand corner of the shadow box, just above the croix de guerre, or French cross of war.

The square-cross medal on two crossed swords hangs from a ribbon with various degree pins. The French bestowed it on foreign military forces – individuals or units – allied to France during World War I, World War II and in other conflicts.

“That one was from France for getting the Germans out of Normandy,” he said.

Brown served as the first lieutenant of the 358th infantry in the 90th division, denoted by a red and green patch featuring a T and O.

“For Texas-Oklahoma,” he explained. “That’s what they were called in the first (World) War. We were the Tough Hombres in the second.”

Brown and his Tough Hombres were also recognized with a bronze star for their work in France.

“We set up a roadblock on the highway leading to Paris,” Brown said. “We were on top of them. When we’d see the German troops trying to get to home, we’d fire, not trying to kill them. Just letting them know we were there. They’d throw white flags, and we’d wave them on in. We captured 75 prisoners.”

Brown also recalls a speech given by General George S. Patton just before D-Day and remembers watching him battle.

The war ended shortly after Brown sustained his second wound and troops returned home. Brown reunited with his wife in Modesto, Calif., and moved back home to Dallas, where their only daughter, Linda (now Cowell), was born. Brown went back to work at Lone Star and retired to Decatur after 40 years.

“I haven’t been back (to serve) since,” Brown said. “I lost the best friends I ever had. That was the hardest part of all. That weighs heavy. But my pride in our country weighs, too.”

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